Or, given the religious nature of the piece, maybe the Babylon Bee would be a more appropriate fit.
But actually, this in-depth report on whether a Christian pastor must believe in God is real news out of Canada, via The Guardian. And here's what kind of surprised me: It's fascinating and generally handles the subject matter well.
Let's start at the top:
TORONTO — There is not one mention of God during the 70-minute service at Toronto’s West Hill United church. Bibles are nowhere to be seen. The large steel cross – one of the few remaining religious symbols in this church – is hidden behind a cascade of rainbow streamers.
But that is perhaps to be expected in a church led by an avowed atheist.
“I do not believe in a theistic, supernatural being called God,” says Gretta Vosper, the United Church of Canada minister who has led West Hill since 1997. “I don’t believe in what I think 99.99% of the world thinks you mean when you use that word.” Tor her, God is instead a metaphor for goodness and a life lived with compassion and justice.
Vosper’s outspoken commitment to a seemingly clashing set of beliefs has prompted turmoil in the open-minded United Church of Canada. A progressive Christian denomination that began ordaining women in Canada 80 years ago and for decades has allowed openly gay men and women to lead ministries, the church has been left questioning its boundaries.
In the coming weeks, an unprecedented review will be carried out to determine whether Vosper can stay on as a minister. At its most basic level, the review will ask a simple question that’s likely to yield a complicated answer: can the United church of Canada have an atheist minister?
For the 100-strong congregation at West Hill, the answer is an unabashed yes. Stripped of God and the Bible, services here are light on religious doctrine and instead emphasise moral teachings. The service begins with a nod to the First Nations land on which the church stands and goes on to mention human rights in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Palestine. Global concern is coupled with community-building, with members invited to share significant moments of the past week.
The writer does a nice job, it seems to me, of explaining the progressive theology of the United Church of Canada, which describes itself as Canada's largest Protestant denomination and claims to minister to more than 2 million people in about 3,000 congregations.
(However, Wikipedia — to which the church website points readers for additional information -- notes that only about 139,000 people regularly attend services, evidence of the mainline denomination's precipitous numerical decline in recent decades. And then there is this from The Globe and Mail.)
Similarly, The Guardian takes readers inside the Toronto congregation and offers specific details on the beliefs (or lack thereof) of the atheist pastor. This section, for example, details Vosper's journey away from her original "metaphorical" belief in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
What followed was years of Vosper and her congregation retooling the service at West Hill. References to God and Jesus became talk of love and compassion and prayer was replaced with community sharing time. The removal of the Lord’s Prayer in 2008 proved to be a critical test, sending attendance plunging from 120 people to 40 and leaving the church’s financial strength in tatters. “The Lord’s Prayer was the last thing in the service that still held them to previous generations of church,” says Vosper. “So it became the lightning rod for all of that loss.”
Throughout this time Vosper couched her strong beliefs in linguistic gymnastics, describing herself as a non-theist and, later, a theological non-realist. In 2013, moved by the case of Bangladeshi bloggers facing persecution over their reportedly atheist views, Vosper began calling herself an atheist. “I felt it was an act of solidarity,” she says, likening it to the use of the word feminist to in the 1970s. “If I shelter myself by not using that term, that’s unfair to everyone who is being maligned by the use of that term.”
Later, the story quotes a few of the remaining members, including one who suggests that eliminating belief in God has helped the congregation "buck the wider trend of declining attendance." (Sorry, but that logic made me smile. This small congregation is a sign of growth?)
So what would make this story better?
Some input from former members, for one thing: What happened to those who left the church? What do they say about the notion of an atheist pastor of a Christian church?
Regular atheists would be another interesting source: What do they think of a self-professed atheist leading a Christian church?
Finally, I'd love to see a theological expert or two quoted on where this scenario fits into the bigger picture of Christianity in Canada and the U.S.: Is this case an outlier or a sign of things to come? Maybe one sentence on the larger framework of growth vs. decline?